Conservation Minnesota

John Tuma’s Blog

Happy 70th birthday, Bobby. It’s just coincidence, I guess, that your birthday fell on the same week that our legislature and Governor failed to fulfill their duty to produce a balanced budget by the date the people set in the state constitution. One thing for sure it makes sense why you have become one of the great prophetic troubadours on the folk and rock scene. You grew up in Minnesota where our politics make little sense. After all it’s only the second time in the last century that a state’s electorate caused the Legislature and the governorship to switch parties when the victors were from two different parties. The other state was Alaska; enough said.

“We live in a political world. Where wisdom is thrown into jail.”
Bob Dylan (fka Robert Zimmerman, Hibbing MN)
Oh Mercy, 2003

You would think after this long tradition of divided and eclectic government structure our state leaders would actually learn the art of compromise. Sadly, Bobby, you were right. We do “live in a political world where wisdom is thrown in jail.” What I want to know from you should we ever bump into each other at say, a Twins game or strolling down a dusty country road somewhere along the Crow River, is . . . how many special sessions must lobbyists suffer through before you call him a fool? I’m hoping it’s more than six, because after serving as a Green Team lobbyist for nine years now, I have seen five special sessions not counting the one coming.

As most of you are aware, the 2011 Legislative session failed to produce a final compromise budget by Monday, May 23rd, the date we the people established in the Constitution for the end of a regular session. The good thing about this constitutional deadline is it has at least forced the legislature to produce a final budget proposal from which to start the next phase of the budget negotiations. Many at the Capitol started referring to this as phase 2 of the process. Phase 1 was the Governor’s budget presentation at the end of January. Essentially, we are now entering phase three. We don’t know whether it should be called the compromise phase or the oxymoron title of the “regularly held budget year special session”. Every two-year budget session in the last decade has needed a special session to resolve differences.

Fittingly, the 2011 regular session ended in the midst of a debate over the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment funding bill. The bill appropriating the revenue from the Amendment’s sales tax allocation started to unravel at the end of last week. First came disputes over dividing regarding up park money, and then, which, if any, open meeting law governs the Outdoor Heritage Council. The last piece of business the House was on when they reached the midnight deadline on Monday was whether to accept the conference committee report on the Legacy funding. It was clear that both sides were simply going to filibuster their way into a constitutionally forced adjournment without the vote being taken on the bill, and that’s how the 2011 session ended.

Therefore, both the regular budget for environment and natural resources funding and the Legacy Amendment funding are left to be addressed in the upcoming special session. Given the distance apart that the Republican-controlled legislature and the Governor left the regular session, it will be a while before there’s any real compromise. The Governor controls when a special session begins, and most political observers at the Capitol expect he will not call special session until there is a concrete agreement on the final budget. Some have also speculated he will call them back regardless of an agreement just before the end of the budget cycle on June 30 to try to force action towards a compromise before nonessential state government functions are shut down. One of the most significant areas of a government shutdown in the natural resources arena would be the closure of all of our state parks right before Independence Day weekend.

Even though they are far apart, the framework for a solution seems to be pretty obvious to most veterans at the Capitol. This is nothing that has not been tried before. The legislature should be willing to accept some sensible revenue raisers that could arguably be called something other than a “tax.” This way they avoid shifting a lack of revenue upon local units of government, which would have to substantially increase property taxes on the very businesses that they would like to protect. Most business owners pay far more in property taxes than they do in income tax in Minnesota. The Governor would need to accept revenue increases that are tied to specific purposes as opposed to his income tax increase. Polling in 2010 indicated that voters are still willing to accept substantial increases in alcohol and tobacco taxes (I mean “fees”) that could easily be dedicated to health care and public safety.

Another good revenue raiser supported by Conservation Minnesota is the Minnesota Recycling Refund Act. This 10¢ bottle recycling deposit would increase our present recycling rate from 35 percent to closer to 90 percent in our neighboring states that have the refund. Of the 10 percent of folks who are still too stubborn to recycle, the state retains the deposit generating an estimated revenue of $90 million per budget to offset existing landfill costs. This would simply force the beverage industry to take responsibility for their own containers as opposed to expecting government to subsidize their product by managing their waste.

There are creative solutions to bridge the significant difference between Minnesota’s political factions. It has been rumored that somewhere in his past 70 years of life Bob Dylan once said, “A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if, over the next month, there are any heroes in the Minnesota Legislature.

About John Tuma

John Tuma
John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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